3 Nutrition Mistakes Athletes Make in January

“Don’t do weird $#!% in January!”

This phrase has been a bit of an internal favorite with the team here at BFSN, though we can’t lay claim to originating it. It captures the idea that moving into the new year, many active folks feel the pull of the new year, new me mentality to make big, wholesale changes to their lifestyles, or demonize certain foods. We also see a large uptick in the wellness space of programs targeted at capitalizing on the societal messaging that suddenly in the first of the year, you have to become a completely different person.

Often, these programs are not for athletes or active people, and don’t account for the specific nutritional foundations that the active population need to meet their goals. Fight the feeling! We’re here with some practical advice for what you should do as an active person to overcome the 3 most common nutrition mistakes we see athletes make in the new year.

Common nutrition mistakes athletes make in January

1: “That’s it, I’m not eating ______________.”

Insert food you feel is problematic for you. This is by far one of the most common nutrition mistakes people make but here’s our advice: Don’t attempt permanent changes on temporary emotions. Coming off the holidays, you may have enjoyed richer foods and maybe even alcohol more than normal. But, that doesn’t mean you need an aggressive revamp of your diet. While those changes can feel good in the short term, they aren’t likely a permanent solution to the problem. Plus, they end up leaving you feeling worse in the end. This trains your mind to get used to the adrenaline rush of aggressive changes and the cycle continues.

2: “I am going to be good from now on.”

Good foods, bad foods … We know certain foods have more nutrients than others. We also know that we are going to suggest eating more of certain foods than others and encourage balanced meals. The thing we won’t do? Give into the toxic narrative that foods have morality. It may not seem like a big deal, but how you talk and think to yourself matters. If you are frequently thinking you are “being good” by eating fruit and “bad” by eating a cookie, you’re letting guilt seep in. This can affect how you think and act on fueling your performance.

3: Starting a program that isn’t athlete minded and hurts rather than fuels your performance.

We won’t lie, most “challenges” make us cringe. It’s not that we don’t like a good challenge, it’s that these challenges are usually based on #1 (see above) and are temporary. They also usually put a focus on changing your body and take away the necessary nutrients to help fuel your performance (aka adequate food!).

If this is you now, or has been you in the past, you may be wondering … “Well, I DO want to work on health in the New Year, so what do I do?”

How to avoid common athlete nutrition mistakes

1: Step out of the “all or nothing” trap.

All or nothing thinking is a cognitive concept that means thinking in absolutes, like “always” or “never”. Many of us have fallen into these thought patterns whether in our training, our nutrition, or other aspects of our lives. Especially around the holidays, this manner of thinking can be a short term tool to drive us to achieve goals, but is not a key to long term success. Avoiding or overcoming “all or nothing” thinking can be challenging, but the reward for doing so is freedom in your nutrition and activity to nourish and move your body without stressing.

If this seems easier said than done, try the following tips:

Examine your why. We often think about our “why” as what motivates or inspires us. But, just as there are “why’s” for the good stuff, there are also underlying reasons for things that don’t serve us as well. By identifying where your all or nothing beliefs came from, you can begin to capture the motivations behind these thought patterns. Examining why you feel this way about food can often open up space for you to let go of attitudes that no longer serve you or your goals. 

Reframe your thoughts. All or nothing thinking can have us believing that we ate something “bad”, or that if we ate that one thing, our nutrition that  day is a loss, leading to more negative attitudes or feelings towards food. By reframing your thoughts around nutrition, you begin to make space for the concept of balance. The restrictive mentality of all or nothing thinking can be overcome by challenging these thoughts when they arise, and reframing them to something positive, or even neutral.

Eat mindfully. Listening to your hunger cues and fueling mindfully is a great way to confront the all or nothing nutritional mindset. By actually enjoying your food (who would have thought?!), honoring your body’s signals for food, and being mindful with your nutrition, you are learning that you can trust yourself to make great choices for you, at whatever phase of training (or life!) you find yourself in. Mindful eating is a way of honoring the connection between your mind and body, and allows you to hone in on the foods that make you feel good

2: Choose 1-2 actionable steps at a time that feel challenging, yet manageable.

We use the concept of MITs, or “Most Important Tasks” to define things that are priority for reaching our goals, without becoming overwhelmed by trying to do everything all at once (sound familiar?!).  These tasks can change with the week, and they should (and will) evolve with you and your goals. 

Depending on what your focus for health in the new year is, you can use this framework to set 1-2 things that will help you to get closer to your goals. Examples include: I will eat breakfast every day during the week, or I will spend 5 minutes every morning (or evening, whatever works best for you) journaling. 

Perhaps your goal is focused on movement, so your 1-2 actionable steps might look a little something like: I will spend 10 minutes after every training session stretching, or I will add in one strength session per week.

It doesn’t have to be an overwhelming to-do list to get you to your goals, because again, trying to do everything at once can feel like you are trying to scale a mountain, when really, one or two small steps repeated with consistency will get you to the peak much more smoothly. 

3: Have fun & focus on growth mindset.

Lately, we’ve really been leaning in to mindset work as the key to personal development in every area. It can help you avoid the common nutrition mistakes we’ve been talking about and it’s such an underappreciated component of wellness! When your mind is right, there is nothing that you cannot do. Let’s take a look at the difference between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset. We love this infographic to quickly compare the two:

Follow a growth vs fixed mindset to help you avoid nutrition mistakes

Growth mindset really isn’t difficult to cultivate. Even though it can sometimes sound daunting to focus on “mindset”, what that really means is, commit yourself to having fun trying and learning new things.

Maybe there is a food, meal or restaurant that you’ve been curious about that isn’t one of your “go-to” options- try that! Or perhaps you attend that spin class your friend is always begging you to join them at. Or, you’re a hardcore runner, but decide to hop in the pool for some laps. That neighborhood softball summer league, even though you’ve hardly ever picked up a glove? Why not?! Any new exercise or workout that you wouldn’t normally perform can shake up the routine and shift you into a growth mindset.

Essentially, growth mindset is really about the willingness to put yourself out there, try new things, and see what you enjoy, with the knowledge that being willing to be a beginner or in unfamiliar territory is the gateway to achieving empowerment and joy. We recently held a mindset training that we would love to share with you to get you started!

If you want help avoiding these common nutrition mistakes or are looking for more support in the new year, we have a 4 day live class coming up starting Jan 16th.  More details will be released on the week of 12/26 so follow us on IG at @befueledsportsnutrition 

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